Police officers Grillo, Kotecki honored
Two events on Friday drilled home the risk facing the region's police officers as they gathered for an annual ceremony recognizing law enforcement.
This year's Sen. John Heinz Law Enforcement Awards Day luncheon, sponsored by the civic organization Amen Corner, fell on the one-year anniversary of the fatal shooting of Lower Burrell Patrolman Derek Kotecki, one of the event's honorees.
By the time the noon banquet started at Station Square Sheraton Hotel, word had spread that the bulletproof vest worn by Pittsburgh police Officer Andrew Baker had saved him from serious injury during a shooting earlier that morning in Stanton Heights.
“The people in this room place their lives in jeopardy every day for our communities,” said Mary Sue Ramsden, president of Amen Corner.
This is the 12th year that the organization has sponsored the awards. Nearly two dozen police officers from Western Pennsylvania were recognized for their bravery, dedication and service.
Kotecki was added to Amen Corner's Hall of Fame following a poignant rendition of “Danny Boy” by Monroeville police Officer James Markel that brought tears to the eyes of many of the 400 officers, family members and elected officials in attendance.
Derek Kotecki's parents, Richard and Elizabeth “Dolly” Kotecki, and his younger sister, Kelly Kotecki Stephenson, were presented with a plaque memorializing Kotecki, an 18-year veteran of the Lower Burrell force who served as the city's K-9 officer.
“Patrolman Kotecki knew he was heading into danger,” said Larry Dunn of Amen Corner.
Kotecki comrades lauded
New Kensington Patrolman Anthony Grillo also was recognized for his actions at the Lower Burrell Dairy Queen the night of Kotecki's death.
Grillo was presented with the Above and Beyond Award by U.S. 3rd Circuit Court Judge Mike Fisher for keeping Kotecki's shooter, fugitive Charlie Post of Lower Burrell, at bay near the rear of the restaurant's parking lot.
“Officer Grillo's actions pushed the suspect back and allowed others to get to Kotecki,” Fisher said.
Grillo said he felt the honor should be shared with Lower Burrell officer Tim Weitzel, now the city's chief.
“I was by his side that night,” Grillo said. “We both tried to save Derek. He sacrificed a lot with me that evening.”
Grillo, who graduated from Burrell a few years after Kotecki and followed him into law enforcement at a neighboring city, said he had worked with Kotecki many times.
“It is a great honor,” Grillo said of the recognition. “But the true heroes in this are the Kotecki family.”
Kotecki also is survived by his wife, Julie, and sons Nicholas and Alexander.
“This honor is very well deserved,” New Kensington Mayor Tom Guzzo said of Grillo. “I'm extremely proud of Officer Grillo's actions that day and every day, as I am of all of my officers.”
New Kensington Chief Tom Klawinski said Sgt. John Olearchick also was honored recently by the Pennsylvania Chiefs of Police Association. Olearchick, a close friend of Kotecki, was presented with a medal of valor for his actions, which included shooting Post twice after Post had shot Kotecki. The Westmoreland County Coroner's office ruled Post died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.
Lower Burrell Councilman David Regoli said Friday's luncheon was a bittersweet moment.
“I'm glad I'm here, but I wish we didn't have a reason to be here,” Regoli said. “It's a hard day in the city. For the Kotecki family, I hope tomorrow will be a better day. I hope every day gets a little better.”
Liz Hayes is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-4680 or firstname.lastname@example.org.